Some time ago, I made this pattern, which I also wrote about here. It’s called Simplicity 203, and it’s costumes inspired by The Hobbit films on the dwarves. I wasn’t happy with it, as you may recall; I looked like some Celtic reconstructionist Civil War general. On the losing side, no less. So I wasn’t happy with it, and I rarely wore it, and ultimately it’s taken up room in my closet for no good reason.
Perfect reason to try again, right?? So I did. I found this green and gold metallic-feeling fabric that I really liked on sale in the 60% off pile. It had these round circles of yellow on a pale olive green background. It was the right amount of fabric for this project, and I figured, why not? I also found this fabric that looks like an Islamic tiled floor pattern in a different bargain bin. They stayed in my stash for a while, and then it seemed like it was time to use them. SO, green and gold shell, islamic tile pattern lining… what could go wrong? Plenty, unfortunately, but I’m a big believer in making your own things; even if there’s some reason the robe is optional, sometimes a little glamour is important, and you should also not neglect the making of some tools of your work.
(How do we know when it’s time to use up fabric? When the fabric we have is preventing us from buying more fabric that we like better). Here we go… In general, I don’t take enough time with my sewing work. But in this case, I tried to do everything right:
- I pinned the patterns to the fabric.
- I pinned pieces
- I cut very carefully and I tried not to enlarge pieces as I cut them on the fly to account for my XXL size.
- I did make some modifications to the pattern
- I chose the sleeved version
- I added cuffs to the sleeves
- I used narrower tape on the front placket.
- I followed similar directions for the lining, but
- The pattern does not allow/isn’t designed for lining, so
- I sort of made up a lining pattern on the fly…
- which didn’t work too well.
The cutout process and the initial assembly went pretty well. THat’s never the hard part; the devil is always in the details of this kind of of work. Let’s see, what went right?
I managed to get the trim on the front of the coat so that they were both aligned with the same seam, and both strips of trim were pointing the right way (the golden vines pattern crawls up the coat and not down. I almost did it the wrong way, but I fixed it before I sewed it in place. I did figure out how to put a lining in a garment where the pattern doesn’t really call for or allow for one. So that was a boost to my skills — modifying a garment pattern on the fly. I also attached the sleeves and cuffs correctly, getting the front of the sleeve attached to the front of the garment’s torso, and the right end of the cuff on both left and right sides to match, for the eventual buttons. I think I attached the mandarin collar correctly, shown in the photo below, although I have a bit of hand-sewing yet to do.
What do I still need to do?
There’s the hemming of the interior lining begun but not finished, first of all. The second thing I need to finish is the hemming of the exterior shell, which is a different length than the hem of the lining (as is often done in a long coat or gown like this. I think that maybe the sleeves need some more of this black and gold vine-leaf trim on them, but maybe that’s overkill. I need to finish the hand-sewing on the collar. If can figure out how to adjust the front placket on the left-hand side, that would be worth doing, too.
I think that’s the big stuff.
Pinning is much more important than I think it should be or want it to be. IT takes away time from the important thing, which is sewing. On the other hand, taking those extra five or ten or twelve minutes to pin on every project, every seam, results in a higher quality garment overall. The three seams I’m least happy with are… of course… the seams that are the least beautiful.
Another way of saying this is, don’t just assume that the entities are going to sit there and let you do to them as you please; bind them in place first.
The second is to learn to identify which patterns can take a lining and which ones can’t. This pattern isn’t really designed well for this stiff brocade-like fabric, and I’m not a skilled lining-designer. Usually linings are a mirror image of the exterior of the garment, sewn into place in reverse, and the two fabrics sit well against one another. Part of the lining of this garment, though, is made of the same fabric as the shell, and that was integral to the pattern. Many of my errors seemed to arise from that challenge of matching one fabric with the other in the inner workings of the garment.
Ultimately, though, this garment fails the same tests I applied to the first trial of this pattern: I don’t think I look good in it. It’s big, it’s clunky, it’s shapeless, and frankly too hot to wear this close to midsummer. The shell fabric doesn’t breathe at all. Next time, I think, in cotton or something looser… and maybe I won’t bother with a lining.
Alas, when I put on the finished garment, I feel rather like a Romulan from the third season of Star Trek The Next Generation. Some part of me is amused, though, to think about some variant of the future where the raiment of priests and magicians is based on the available costume patterns inspired by movies and TV shows.
It also makes me wonder about the availability of good patterns for men’s clothes and costumes? Many of them are clunky to assemble, poorly conceived in finishing details, often don’t hang right in larger sizes. I know the principles of how to make patterns, but I haven’t actually made one of my own. I might have to change that.
[…] of my critical pieces of learning from the last project, the green gown, was to do more pinning and more pressing. I learned something similar from the shirt-making […]
Love the tesselated pattern! My hands are making little grabby Want Want motions of their own volition.
I’ve just found the sewing category on Reddit. Search for men’s patterns to find some discussion threads.
Thread Theory, Walden, and Merchant and Mills patterns look good, though I haven’t made them. ( It seems like they’re all determined to put you in a jacket or hoodie, but then they get over it and offer other patterns.) Colette has a couple as well.
I’ve seen some blogs from men who sew – Male Pattern Boldness and Man Sewing. They might point to some good resources. Mainely Dads Winter Coat chronicles working through a Japanese book of coat patterns. Once he finished those he went on to shirts, backpacks, and now kilts.
[…] The camera is of poor capabilities and operating at an odd angle on an uneven timer in a room recently darkened by the approach of thunderstorms. But I’ve managed to finish this gown or long coat that I wrote about in the previous entry. […]
A couple of thoughts. While I understand your desire to have it that way, your attention to the detail of which way the vines went is a very modern concept. Matching patterns in fabric or trim was something only the very wealthiest people did, just because fabric was so expensive.
Yes, pinning is important, especially on curved seams. I hate it too, but force myself to do it because it makes such a difference.
When your skills get better, I suggest Reconstructing History patterns. Kass & Bob have some good ones and they’ve recently expanded into larger sizes.
…and yes, I get that this is not necessarily for historic use, but hey, it’s me. 🙂
No, no… I get that, and I appreciate it. Someday maybe I’ll join the SCA (again), but at the moment my focus seems to be on other stuff.
There was an article recently from planet money about the making of modern t-shirts (https://apps.npr.org/tshirt/#/title). Every modern t-shirt has about six miles of thread (the industry term is yarn) in it. I think about that, and I think about the very slow methods available for making the thread for weaving, and it’s a little terrifying. Thanks for the suggestion about Reconstructing History. You’ve recommended them before; I also have a copy of a book called The Medieval Tailor’s Assistant, which has diagrams for making patterns; I also have a pair of books about Tudor garments (with pattern diagrams) called The King’s Servants and a parallel one for The Queen’s Servants. So I have resources for making other clothes, but I haven’t invested the time in them. At the moment, it feels like it’s important to make a lot of stuff and learn from my erratas (of which there are many).
Thanks for the advice.